Sheldon Silver’s legal team filed a request in federal court yesterday to have corruption charges against him dropped. The longtime Lower East Side assemblyman pleaded not guilty to a three count indictment accusing him of fraud and extortion in connection with an alleged $4 million corruption scheme. Silver was forced to step down as speaker following his arrest.
More from today’s New York Times:
“This prosecution is a theory in search of a crime,” Mr. Silver’s lawyers wrote, contending that the charges against him failed to meet the standards required under a federal extortion statute and a law governing the theft of honest services, which was narrowed five years ago by the United States Supreme Court. “At bottom,” his lawyers said in a brief filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, “what the government objects to in this case is not actual federal crimes but rather longstanding features of New York state government that the U.S. attorney finds distasteful.”
In February, the lawyers filed another motion for dismissal, arguing that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had sought to try the former Assembly speaker in the news media, depriving him of a fair trial. Judge Valerie Caproni has not ruled on that motion as of yet.
Prosecutors allege that Silver traded his influence for cash payments disguised as legitimate legal fees. In one instance, they said, a doctor received state grants after referring asbestos cases to Weitz & Luxenbourg, the law firm where Silver worked. But Silver’s lawyers said those referrals were not illegal. In the brief, they wrote, “Despite all the U.S. attorney’s rhetoric about bribes and kickbacks there simply is nothing wrong with an attorney earning referral fees for the business he brings in.”
The attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steve Molo, also argued that there is nothing illegal about the fees Silver received for referring real estate developers to another law firm. From the Daily News:
“There is no allegation that Mr. Silver caused the developers to ‘part with’ money they would not otherwise have spent on whatever law firm they chose to retain,” documents read. Charges of wire and mail fraud are too vague to allow Silver a proper defense, the lawyers argue. The 24-page motion to dismiss the case notes that New York has long allowed state legislators to have outside income — a job perk that Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has frequently criticized.
Earlier this week, Bharara filed papers to seize funds in several of Silver’s bank accounts and other assets. The New York Post reported that he’s seeking at least $3.7 million in legal payments Silver received, as well as funds held by third parties.
Silver has repeatedly said he intends to stay on as assemblyman representing Lower Manhattan. He’s been making regular appearances throughout the neighborhood, telling constituents that he continues to fight for their interests in Albany. Just yesterday, Silver attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at Gouverneur Health, where a multi-million dollarexpansion was just completed.